David Vago, Ph.D.


Dr. Vago serves as the research director of the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine and the director of the Contemplative Neuroscience and Integrative Medicine (CNIM) Laboratory at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. He is an associate professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and the Department of Psychiatry.


Dr. Vago is also a research associate at the Functional Neuroimaging Laboratory (FNL), Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), Harvard Medical School. He has completed postdoctoral fellowships in neuroimaging and mind-body medicine, as well as the Stuart T. Hauser Research Training Program in Biological and Social Psychiatry. He has previously held the position of senior research coordinator for the Mind & Life Institute and is currently a Mind and Life Fellow, supporting the Mind and Life mission by advising on strategy and programs.


In 1997, Dr. Vago received his bachelor’s degree in brain and cognitive sciences from the University of Rochester. In 2005, he received his PhD in cognitive and neural sciences with a specialization in learning and memory from the Department of Psychology at the University of Utah. Dr. Vago’s research interests broadly focus on utilizing translational models to identify and characterize neurobiological substrates that mediate psychopathology with an aim to better predict outcomes and potential biologically based diagnostic and therapeutic strategies for those suffering with mental illness and chronic pain.

Through mixed research methods of systems biology, neuroimaging, predictive computational modeling, connectomics, genomic and neuroendocrine science, innovation, and cognitive-behavioral and first-person phenomenological analyses, Dr. Vago focuses on one basic question: What are the basic neurobiological and physiological components that constitute adaptive mind-brain-body interactions and their therapeutic relevance in psychiatric settings? He has a number of ongoing research initiatives, including Mapping the Meditative Mind, in which he has partnered with contemporary meditation and yoga teachers as well as scholars to investigate states of meditation across the spectrum of formal meditative expertise. He has also collaborated with Shinzen Young and used the Unified Mindfulness system with significant success in several of these endeavors.


Brigham and Women’s Hospital — Harvard Medical School: davidvago.bwh.harvard.edu/


Osher Center for Integrative Medicine: https://www.vanderbilthealth.com/osher


Curriculum Vitae:  vago_curriculum_vitae_vanderb


Published Scientific Research

  1. Van Dam, N. T., van Vugt, M. K., Vago, D. R., Schmalzl, L., Saron, C. D., Olendzki, A., Meissner, T., Lazar, S. W., Kerr, C. E., Gorchov, J., Fox, K. C. R., Field, B. A., Britton, W. B., Brefczynski-Lewis, J. A., Meyer, D. E. (Under Review). Mind the hype: A critical evaluation and prescriptive agenda for mindfulness and meditation research. Psychological Review
  2. Hadash, Y., Plonsker, R., Vago, D. R., Berstein, A. (under review). Experiential selfless processing in mindfulness: Conceptual model and implicit measurement. Psychological Assessment.
  3. Cheek, J., Abrams, E. M., Lipschitz, D. L., Vago, D. R., Nakamura, Y. Creating new forms of school-based education programs that cultivate mindfulness in young people: What the letters can tell us. (in preparation). American Education Research Journal
  4. Perez, D. L.*, Vago, D. R.*, Pan, H., Root, J. Fuchs, B. H., Epstein, J., Clarkin, J., Lenzenweger, M. F., Kernberg, O., Levy, K., Silbersweig, D. A., Stern, E. (in press). Frontolimbic neural changes associated with clinical improvement following transference-focused psychotherapy in borderline personality disorder. Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences. (* shared first authorship)
  5. Perez, D. L. Pan, H., Weisholtz, D., Root, J., Fischer, D., Butler, T., Vago, D. R., Isenberg, N., Epstein, J., Silbersweig, D. A., Stern, E. (2015) Altered threat and safety neural processing linked to persecutory delusions in schizophrenia: a two task functional magnetic resonance imaging study. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging.
  6. Cheek, J., Lipschitz, D. L., Abrams, E. M., Vago, D. R., Nakamura, Y. (2015). Dynamic Reflexivity in Action: An Armchair Walkthrough of a Qualitatively-Driven Mixed-Method and Multiple Method Study of Mindfulness Training in School Children. Qualitative Health Research.
  7. Kripalu Yoga Research Consortium (listed alphabetically: Gard, T.*, Vago, D. R.*, Noggle, J., Park, C., Wilson, A. (2014). Potential self-regulatory mechanisms of yoga for psychological health: Directions for future research. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. View in: PubMed
  8. Desbordes, Gaëlle, Gard, Tim, Hoge, Elizabeth A, Hölzel, Britta K, Kerr, Catherine, Lazar, Sara W, Olendzki, Andrew, Vago, David R. Moving Beyond Mindfulness: Defining Equanimity as an Outcome Measure in Meditation and Contemplative Research. Mindfulness. 2014; 1-17.
  9. Davis JH, Vago DR. Can enlightenment be traced to specific neural correlates, cognition, or behavior? No, and (a qualified) Yes. Front Psychol. 2013; 4:870. View in: PubMed
  10. Vago DR. Mapping modalities of self-awareness in mindfulness practice: a potential mechanism for clarifying habits of mind. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2014 Jan; 1307(1):28-42. View in: PubMed
  11. Orringer DA, Vago DR, Golby AJ. Clinical applications and future directions of functional MRI. Semin Neurol. 2012 Sep; 32(4):466-75. View in: PubMed
  12. Vago DR, Silbersweig DA. Self-awareness, self-regulation, and self-transcendence (S-ART): a framework for understanding the neurobiological mechanisms of mindfulness. Front Hum Neurosci. 2012; 6:296. View in: PubMed
  13. Vago DR, Epstein J, Catenaccio E, Stern E. Identification of neural targets for the treatment of psychiatric disorders: the role of functional neuroimaging. Neurosurg Clin N Am. 2011 Apr; 22(2):279-305, x. View in: PubMed
  14. Mind and Life Education Research Network (listed alphabetically: Davidson, RJ, Dunne, J, Eccles, JS, Engle, A, Greenberg, M, Jennings, P, Jha, A, Jinpa, T, Lantieri, L., Meyer, D., Roeser, RW, Vago, DR. Contemplative practices and mental training: Prospects for American Education. Child Development Perspectives. 2012; 6(2), 146-153.
  15. Perez, D. L., Root, J., Brown, , Vago, D. R., Epstein, J., Cloitre, M., Silbersweig, D., Stern, E. “Frontolimbic Gray-Matter Abnormalities in Childhood Sexual Trauma-Related PTSD.” Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences. 2012;  24(2): 12-12.
  16. Holzel, B. K., S. W. Lazar, T. Gard, Z. Schuman-Olivier, D. R. Vago and U. Ott . Perspectives on Psychological Science. “How Does Mindfulness Meditation Work? Proposing Mechanisms of Action From a Conceptual and Neural Perspective.”. 2011; 6(6):537-559.
  17. Min, BK, Yang, PS, Bohlke, M, Park, S, Vago, DR, Maher, TJ, Yoo, SS. INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF IMAGING SYSTEMS AND TECHNOLOGY. Focused Ultrasound Modulates the Level of Cortical Neurotransmitters: Potential as a New Functional Brain Mapping Technique. 2011; 21(2):232-240.
  18. Vago, D. R. Nakamura, Y. Cognitive Therapy and Research. Selective Attentional Bias Towards Pain-Related Threat in Fibromyalgia: Preliminary Evidence for Effects of Mindfulness Meditation Training. 2011; 6(35):581-594.
  19. Vago DR, Nakamura Y. American Psychosomatic Society – 68th ANNUAL SCIENTIFIC MEETING. Mindfulness Meditation Training for Fibromyalgia: A Preliminary Study Investigating Attention-related Bias on a Dot-Probe Task. 2010; 67.
  20. Vago DR, Nakamura Y. Proceedings of the 6th Annual Conference: Integrating Mindfulness-Based Interventions into Medicine, Health Care, and Society for Clinicians, Researchers, and Educators, Center for Mindfulness. Mindfulness Training for Fibromyalgia: Changes in General Symptoms, Perception of Pain, and Associated Brain Correlates. 2008.
  21. Vago DR, Kesner RP. Disruption of the direct perforant path input to the CA1 subregion of the dorsal hippocampus interferes with spatial working memory and novelty detection. Behav Brain Res. 2008 Jun 3; 189(2):273-83. View in: PubMed
  22. Vago DR, Nakamura Y, Volinn E. Proceedings of the meeting, “Toward a Science of Consciousness”. Mindfulness Meditation Training for Fibromyalgia (Chronic Pain Condition). 2007.
  23. Vago DR, Bevan A, Kesner RP. The role of the direct perforant path input to the CA1 subregion of the dorsal hippocampus in memory retention and retrieval. Hippocampus. 2007; 17(10):977-87. View in: PubMed
  24. Vago DR, Kesner RP. Cholinergic modulation of Pavlovian fear conditioning in rats: differential effects of intrahippocampal infusion of mecamylamine and methyllycaconitine. Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2007 Mar; 87(3):441-9. View in: PubMed
  25. Vago DR, Nakamura Y, Volinn E. The effects of mindfulness meditation training on cognitive and emotional biases associated with the perception of pain in fibromyalgia. 2006.
  26. Vago DR, Kesner RP. Society for Neuroscience Abstracts. An electrophysiological and behavioral characterization of the temporoammonic pathway: disruption produces deficits in retrieval and spatial mismatch. 2005; (647.5).
  27. Vago DR, Kesner RP. Society for Neuroscience Abstracts. The role of the direct perforant path in retrieval and detection of spatial change. 2004.
  28. Vago DR, Calder A, Kesner RP. Society for Neuroscience Abstracts. Functional characterization of the direct perforant path into the hippocampus. 2003.
  29. Vago DR, Hone A, Barrett C, Wallenstein GV, Kesner RP. Society for Neuroscience Abstracts. Intrahippocampal blockaded of α7, α3ß2, α2ß4, and α4ß4 nicotinic acetylcholine receptors disrupts early consolidation and acquisition of contextual fear.
  30. Wallenstein GV, Vago DR, Walberer AM. Time-dependent involvement of PKA/PKC in contextual memory consolidation. Behav Brain Res. 2002 Jul 18; 133(2):159-64. View in: PubMed
  31. Wallenstein GV, Vago DR. Intrahippocampal scopolamine impairs both acquisition and consolidation of contextual fear conditioning. Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2001 May; 75(3):245-52. View in: PubMed
  32. Vago DR, Walberer AM, Kinikini K, Wallenstein GV. Society for Neuroscience Abstracts. PKA/PKC inhibition produces a time-dependent retrograde deficit of contextual fear conditioning. 2000

Book Chapters

  1. Roeser, R.W., Vago, D.R., Pinela, C., Morris, L.S., Taylor, C., and Harrison, J. (2013). “Contemplative Education: Cultivating Positive Mental Skills and Social-Emotional Dispositions through Mindfulness Training,” in Handbook of Moral and Character Education. 2ND ed.
  2. Vago, D.R., Morris, L.S., Wallenstein, G.V., Hippocampus. In Encyclopedia of Neurological Sciences, 2nd ed. Academic Press. 2014.
  3. Wallenstein, G.V., Vago, D.R., Walberer, A.M. Hippocampus. In Encyclopedia of Neurological Sciences, Academic Press. 2001.

Publications in Preparation

  1. Vago, D. R., Pan, H., Young, S., Silbersweig, D., Stern, E. Fronto-striatal-limbic Markers of Clarity in Advanced Meditators During Open Monitoring Meditation Practice.
  2. Vago, D.R., Nakamura, Y. Anticipation and experience of pain in Fibromyalgia: Preliminary functional brain imaging evidence for modulatory effects of mindfulness meditation training.
  3. Vago, D.R., Nakamura, Y. Causal effects of mindfulness and catastrophizing on symptom change for fibromyalgia.
  4. Davis, J.H., Analayo, B., Van Dam, N.T., Vago, D.R., Brewer, J.A., Britton, W.B. Attentive and Balanced: Empirical Operationalization of an Early Buddhist Model of Mindfulness